In menswear, the name Oi Polloi is uttered with something close to deference. The Manchester shop has quietly come to define a certain look, one of niche labels, discreet trainers and Japanese denim. It is also distinctly northern. Journalist Paul Flynn, who hails from Manchester and is a fan of the store, describes the look as “all about the details. It’s that which Oi Polloi do so well.” Flynn says that the Manchester look has always been “closely aligned with music” and name checks Liam Gallagher, Ian Brown and, “the quintessential Manchester man, Bernard Sumner”.
Oi Polloi’s website has long shipped its look far and wide, but now London men will benefit with the opening this month of a store in Soho. Is this the sign of the northern-look moving down south? Will it work? David Hellqvist, fashion features editor of Port magazine, has high hopes. “The fact that it comes from Manchester adds to its allure,” he says, and compares it to cult fashion department store Dover Street Market. “It’s a store, but it’s become so much more. It represents a way of life.”
Oi Polloi’s esteemed place in menswear culture hasn’t happened overnight. The shop was founded in 2002 by Steve Sanderson and Nigel Lawson, who previously worked as a hairdresser and market stall owner respectively. They bonded over clothes that have quiet detail, and a love of old-school trainers. Labels such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Levi, APC and Norse Projects are bread and butter to the Oi Polloi look and it recently collaborated with Adidas on its own special-edition trainers. The London store is the next step. Smaller than the one in Manchester, it will nevertheless have the labels that the duo have championed – from Japanese denim brand orSlow to classic Clarks Originals.
Oi Polloi also represents an independent spirit. “The triumph is that it’s survived in a city which was decimated by the arrival of department stores like Harvey Nichols and Selfridges,” says Flynn. “They ended a lot of independent retailers.” He remembers a heyday in the city until the mid-90s, when “you knew where the well-dressed men bought their clothes”. He mentions shops including Aspecto (streetwear), Geese (clubwear) and Richard Creme. “I remember going to Richard Creme and seeing the Issey Miyake cardigan that Morrissey wore to promote The Queen is Dead,” he says. “I knew he must have got it from there too.”
Oi Polloi has managed to keep that lineage alive and retain the connection to its city’s stars. If, as Flynn says: “There’s no longer a defining Manchester sound, they have kept that spirit of men who care about clothes.”
Hellqvist believes this will guarantee the success of the London store. “That’s what they got right,” he says. “Their customers respect Oi Polloi as curators of their wardrobe. There’s a trust there and that’s a concept that works really well in menswear.” Wherever you live.